"I can tell you where the establishment is, but it won't do you any good," the hotel proprietor informed us as he perused our registration forms.
"Why not?" I asked.
"The dive shop owner is on vacation."
"The dive shop owner is on vacation?" I repeated incredulously.
"Uh, huh. Always go this time of year. Too dangerous to put the boat in the water." We gazed out to sea from the outdoor lobby and observed water calm enough to fill a kiddy pool.
Endless white-sand beaches surrounded by transparent, emerald water had greeted us when we arrived on Ha'apai, an island in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga. We'd set out on a clear, sunny day thrilled at the opportunity to experience what were reputed to be some of the most exquisite virgin coral reefs in the world. We'd checked into the resort and inquired where to find the dive shop, only to receive the disappointing news.
"Well, I guess we'll have to find something else to do," I muttered with resignation.
We noticed some kayaks leaning against the side of the building.
"Are these hard to tip over?" I asked the rental attendant.
"No, they're easy to tip over," he laughed, then turned serious and added, "These are very difficult to tip over."
As soon as he said that, I knew I would.
We dragged the kayaks across the beach, scampering along as quickly as we could to get off the hot sand into the water. We made several unsuccessful attempts to launch. On the third try, we were off the beach.
We set out for one of the surrounding islands. I'm not sure which one. We weren't good at navigating. We figured wherever we ended up, it was where we were supposed to be.
We made a few laughable attempts at trying to use the paddles. Finally, we were underway. After considerable effort, we inched forward a couple of feet. This might be harder than it looks, I thought to myself.
We got on a roll and seemed to be getting closer to one of the distant islands, but it was an illusion. We kept up our rather pathetic efforts until eventually nearing a shore.
Then a huge set of breakers arose suddenly behind us and headed straight toward our backs. Uh-oh, what do we do now? I wondered.
"Go straight in. Don't get sideways," said Russ, as if reading my mind.
Wow, what a wild ride! Our strained efforts to make headway became history as we were thrown forward, full-throttle ahead. Problem: I didn't know how to cut back the accelerator.
An enormous, final breaker pushed me to shore, but not before I executed a full roll. What a thrill! I felt like a hot dog showing off, except I didn't have any idea what I was doing "… which is just how I live my life.
"But I wouldn't want it any other way," I thought to myself. "It just wouldn't be as fun."